By Shelly Burke

Several years ago, I decided to start using all the shopping rules I’d read about in books and magazines. It seemed so easy. I would spend only $50 a week on groceries, and receive rebate checks and free items in the mail every day. But after a few months of diligently studying sale advertisements, saving Universal Product Codes (UPCs), filing Proof of Purchase seals (POPs), filling out forms, clipping coupons, and shopping according to the rules, my shopping time doubled and I always seemed to be one UPC short of that great deal.

I decided to break the shopping rules, or at least bend them, so they’d better suit my life. My shopping immediately became more productive, less time-consuming, and less stressful. Here are shopping rules I love to break or at least bend.

Rule One: Shopping is an educational experience for your kids, so take them along and teach them to comparison shop and use coupons. How to break it: Don’t take the kids! You’ll save money (no little voices begging for sugary snacks or unnecessary items and distracting you from comparing prices) and your sanity.

Rule Two: Shop during off-hours when the stores are the least busy. How to break it: Shop when a babysitter or your spouse is home to watch the kids (see above). Even if the store is crowded, you’ll save time shopping alone.

Rule Three: Arrange your shopping list according to how the store is arranged. How to bend it: Also list the meals you’re planning to prepare, so you know which items on your list are critical to the meal, how much you need, and if you can substitute an ingredient. For example, one day I had green peppers on my list and there was only one in the bin. From my meal plan, I could see that the pepper was going into the pot of chili I planned to prepare, and one pepper would be enough. If I had been planning to make stuffed peppers, I would have known to change my meal plan.

Rule Four: Buy only what’s on your list. How to bend it: If there’s a great unadvertised special on something you can use in a main dish (pork chops, for example), add it to your meal list, or plan to freeze them for future use.

Rule Five: Don’t purchase prepared items like cut up lettuce, baby carrots, skinless chicken breasts, and so on. How to break it: Before you automatically pass up these items, remember that they require little or no preparation, and that can be a life saver if the kids desperately need a snack or you have unexpected guests for supper. Prepared items are also a healthy, less expensive alternative to gas station snacks when you’re on a trip. To offset the price, buy store brands, use coupons, and watch for specials.

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